Couture's rock 'n' roll brides
Couture week is a key source of inspiration for the bridal sector as the world’s most expensive dresses strut the runway and offer an always-extravagant, often quirky take on special occasion dressing.
For those seeking bridal inspiration, couture week offers frequently more inspiring ideas than the specific wedding trends we get from bridal week. That’s because bridal collections play safe (but undeniably beautiful) while couture gives designers permission to experiment and go out on a limb.
And experiment is what’s needed for driving style development in what’s one of the slowest-moving categories. And given that it’s a category where women will happily splash four-figure sums on a wear-it-once-only dress, making your product stand out from the bridal crowd is all-important.
So while the AW16 couture shows last month didn’t feel like one of the most stellar seasons, there were still plenty of ideas for offbeat brides and category development.
Is it just me or are we seeing more full-skirted gala gowns coming out of couture at the moment? Does this mean a full-on revival of 80s-style wedding dresses is on the horizon? Hopefully not. But that doesn’t mean there’s no place for the bride who wants to make the grandest possible entrance while still tapping into contemporary trends.
Key to this is the avoidance of too much fullness at waist level. Instead, couture designers favour a fit-and-flare approach with gathers introduced selectively in order to enhance rather than swamp the figure on a day when women want to be sure their figures look good.
Designers also stay well away from the 80s approach by keeping decoration low-key and even following a minimalist path. So forget the shiny satins and choose matte or soft-sheen materials. Avoid OTT embellishment and keep it subtle as if the beads have simply been scattered gently across the fabric.
On-trend details also include today’s key off-the-shoulder necklines or a deep-V, as well as solid-sheer contrasts and the drama of a slashed thigh.
Pictured above. L to r: Zuhair Murad, Alexis Mabille, Alexis Mabille, Zuhair Murad, Alexandre Vauthier, Alexis Mabille, Alexis Mabille, Elie Saab, Giles Deacon
Let it flow
Exactly 20 years ago Carolyn Bessette’s wedding to JFK Jr marked a step change in wedding dress style as the fluid silk of her Narciso Rodriguez creation immediately made anything more elaborate feel just, well, OTT.
The influence is still being felt as couture designers play with softly flowing silks, Grecian-influenced sheers, metallics that have the effect of molten gold or silver and even the softest silk velvets that add a surprising lushness to the overall effect.
The aim is to create movement during the big walk up the aisle as well as for keynote moments such as the first dance and those all-important photos.
Impeccable cutting is a must-have as many of these dresses rely simply on the beauty of the silks for their appeal. But detail isn’t completely out of the picture. Draping, placement embellishment, fine pleating, and contrast sashes or panels add extra touches that boost the special occasion feel of these dresses.
Dare to bare
Too much flesh on show is a no-no issue for many brides (just ask their mums). But couture shows it’s possible to bare without the shock value. A thigh-slash skirt, plunge back, or deep-V neckline are the obvious ways into the bare-it trend. They can be toned down, of course, with sheer inserts and less extreme cuts helping to make them practical as well as striking for the big day.
But bare can also be covered and this is where sheer fabrics comes into play. Of course runway shows always go to extremes with their displays of flesh and the kind of big reveal we see on a catwalk doesn’t get repeated in the real world as discreet linings add an extra layer of security.
What the runway shows do highlight is how heavier embellishment can be used to conceal as much as it reveals and also how the contrast of solid materials with semi-sheers can offer an appealing take on the trend.
Print is rarely a big story for the bridal sector with expanses of pure white or embellishment being the preferred option. But with print being a key trend story at present, it seems a shame to reject it out of hand. Just picture some of today’s core prints interpreted in paler, more bridal-relevant tones.
Of course, £50,000 couture gowns come with hand-painting, ‘prints’ that turn out to be detailed embellishment on closer inspection, or artist-commissioned exclusives. But think creatively on a lower budget - picture today’s florals, abstracts, geometrics, grids, animal or scenic prints worked in complementary tones of white, stone, silver grey, ice pink, lemon or cream.
They add interest to expanses of material in a gala gown’s skirt or an Empire line dress and help to add an on-trend twist that doesn’t necessarily add to the cost.
Bridesmaid dresses and even some bridal gowns are often shorter and couture offers plenty of inspiration here whether with ultra-minis, knee-lengths or hi-lo hems.
The shorter the dress, the more the focus become a rich fabric experience that allows us to keep the silhouettes simple. Think print intensity, heavy embellishment, the season’s key fringe story or designers playing with the fabric structure to create effects that are part-embellishment, part-clever cutting.
Fit-and-flare is also a major part of the short dress story with reinforced sheers and beading offering up a dramatic effect that doesn’t rely on a floor-sweeping skirt for its impact.
Of course, floor-sweeping can still figure here and the hi-lo hem is a great way to show off sleek pair of legs while also making an impression with a rear view as the bride glides up the aisle. This places as much emphasis on the visible skirt lining as the exterior and gives opportunity to play with print, contrast colour or soft sheen.
The simple life
A wedding dress is one of the most expensive items a women ever buys and it’s also one in which she is more noticeable than anybody else. While this is the desired effect for many, lots of brides also prefer a simple approach that feel less like a wedding cake ornament and more like a slightly dressier refection of her everyday style.
Perhaps surprisingly, couture gave us quite a few simple options, led by the (outgoing) team at Dior. They kept silhouettes comfortable, details and embellishment to a minimum and consequently came up with a look likely to appeal to the contemporary market customer who has enthusiastically bought-into minimalism and embraced gender-neutral for part of her wardrobe.
Valentino also kept it simple for some of the pieces in an otherwise-dramatic collection. The collection’s historical edge was kept under control for dresses that made an impact via the drama of a single colour. Schiaparelli also (shockingly) offered up the simplest silhouettes for some of the label’s strongest dresses.
Imagine all of these dresses in classic bridal colours and low-key bridal fabrics, perhaps with the subtle addition of gold or silver for the extra stardust that makes these special occasion dresses truly special.
Two couture labels looked to the past, especially the idealised version of the past we see on the stage and screen, for inspiration and also gave us some cool ideas for offbeat brides.
For Valentino it was all about late Medieval and Tudor styling as surprisingly simple silhouettes came in solid or sheer fabrics, topped by ruff collars. Think of Shakespearean heroines and even a few of Shakespeare’s (female) villains, plus an almost ecclesiastical twist.
Meanwhile Giles Deacon mixed a feel for 1950s golden age couture silhouettes with a dramatic edge that included high Victorian necklines, Gilbert & Sullivan-influenced military-style dressing and dramatic caped gowns that belong to no specific era but really do belong on a stage.
Getting down to detail
While bridal gowns are designed to make an impact from afar, close-up detail is also key and these are the top detail choices for couture designers this season.
Fringes shimmy and swirl around the body as the wearer moves and in bridal white, blue, silver or pink they add an on-trend edge to the simplest short or long dresses. Make sure the fringes are substantial - half-hearted just won’t do if you want to make an impact.
Soft or more structured layers of silk echo nature to give a skirt or bodice a stunning finish that makes it a once-in-a-lifetime choice. Softer silks work best on long skirts but more structured heavy satins give textural appeal to shorter styles.
A strong alternative to fringes, feathers soften a silhouette and also add impact to short dresses. One word of warning - feathers taken to extremes can be a style step too far for wedding dresses so keep them under control.
Frills are a key trend for 2017 and couture designers have embraced them using them as tiny, detailed trims as well as lushly extravagant detail statements. Use them to transform skirts, necklines, sleeves and more. But remember, while they’re found at their most exaggerated in couture collections, more subtle frills on a bridal gown can add a trend element but one that doesn’t date too quickly.
This season’s couture showed just how embellishment can step beyond the bridal norm to really transform a dress. Rather than the usual beads and seed pearls, heavier embellishment such as matte appliqué flowers, birds or butterflies look striking and contemporary. Unusual motifs or applied interpretations of key print stories (worked in bridal colours) will appeal to brides looking for a non-traditional edge.